7 Ways Anxiety Actually Works to Your Advantage

feet on slack line in woodsLiving with anxiety can be exhausting, frustrating, and painful. Frequent anxiety symptoms may be robbing you of sleep, joy, and/or confidence. However, there is much you can learn and benefit from when it comes to understanding anxiety. In fact, anxiety works to your advantage in some significant ways. Identifying anxiety and exploring how you relate to it may help you uncover some of your most significant strengths and useful skills.

Here are seven ways anxiety can actually be a good thing:

1. Anxiety may make you smarter.

A person who tends to be anxious may also naturally be highly intelligent. Anxious people can be incredibly good researchers, critical thinkers, and analyzers. In addition to naturally tending toward higher-level intellectual processing, anxiety can also teach you to be smarter as you go through a process of learning more about it. Building a better understanding of your anxiety can help you learn to explore options consciously and problem solve calmly. That skill improves both your mental and emotional intelligence.

2. Anxiety is rooted in your need to protect yourself.

Fear is designed to keep you safe from danger. Anxiety is an adaptation of that vital and fundamental fear response. Sometimes anxiety will tell you that the worst is true (perhaps getting you to believe that everyone dislikes you or that someone is determined to harm you). However, paying attention to that uneasy feeling can help you stay connected to sense of self-preservation.

You can think of anxiety as an annoying friend with good intentions. This may help you learn when to take back the control to stop anxiety from dictating many of your thoughts and actions. You may start to notice your anxiety response sooner, allowing you to make conscious decisions about whether there is danger and how to best take care of yourself.

3. Anxiety directs to you whatever needs your attention.

It can be healthy to temporarily distract yourself from anxiety to gain perspective, but if a thought or situation causes anxiety repeatedly, your mind and body are likely trying to tell you there is something needing to be addressed. It may also give you a sense of what you truly care about and want to take action on, even if it may be difficult to do so. Anxiety can direct you to see that something about a situation is too important to ignore. A therapist can help you learn how to give a situation attention without it needing to be anxious attention.

4. Anxiety directs you to finding your deepest core values.

Noticing what you fear is a gateway to discovering what you truly value. We feel a form of anxiety when we see someone being bullied or harmed. We feel anxiety when a person says something that seems dishonest. This response doesn’t have to mean we are predicting the worst possible outcome; it is a vital radar to show us what is right and wrong for us. To fully eliminate anxiety would be to eliminate discernment and self-awareness.

5. Anxiety can help you discover your fullest potential.

Many people who have a form of anxiety are chronic overachievers. Anxiety is often used as a tool to help you push yourself to your limit of achievement. The downside is that there are often negative meanings attached, such as not being good enough or not valuing rest. Often, anxious overachievers have difficulty saying no, trouble completing tasks to their liking or knowing which tasks to prioritize, and issues trusting or working with others.

Using anxiety as a means to “motivate” yourself can only work to a certain extent. Looking at the amount you accomplish even with the negative pressure of anxiety, imagine how much more you could do if you felt focused, calm, and fulfilled by the tasks you accomplish. Anxiety can give you that glimpse into what your body and mind are able to achieve, even under great pressure. You can achieve things with more focus and fulfillment by working with a therapist to let go of the negativity that anxiety can bring.

6. Anxiety provides the energy necessary for taking action.

For many people, anxiety doesn’t inspire over-achievement but instead a perceived inability to take action. Does anxiety ever leave you feeling paralyzed, unable to move forward? The good news is this stress response can work to your benefit.

Does anxiety ever leave you feeling paralyzed, unable to move forward? The good news is this stress response can work to your benefit.

The energy that fuels anxious thoughts and behaviors is giving you what you need to take action and get unstuck. By not taking action, the energy is just getting bottled up inside you with nowhere to go but in circles. A mind spinning in circles or a body that fidgets or panics is stifling the energy of anxiety. Taking action can channel and alleviate that pressure, and the stress response can help you have the energy to do that.

Especially for someone who struggles with depression in addition to anxiety, training the body and mind to take small actions using that energy can provide healing over time—for example, using that energy to take a walk outside or to start a conversation (rather than playing it out repeatedly in your mind).

7. Anxiety can teach you to find balance in life, whatever that may mean for you.

Practicing responding to anxiety in purposeful ways can guide a process of finding balance in every aspect of your life: work and play, social time and personal time, rest and activity, etc. Anxiety gives clues to wherever your world may be out of balance.

Taking charge of your relationship with anxiety may be the most rewarding thing you do for yourself. You can prove to yourself what you are capable of by learning to consciously respond to your anxiety rather than allowing it to control you. This process can help you develop incredible acceptance, confidence, and leadership abilities. Find a therapist to guide and support your efforts and accomplishments.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kristine Tye, MA, LMFT, Anxiety Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Caroline A

    February 2nd, 2016 at 10:21 AM

    Well you are right in that it definitely does draw my attention to what needs to be done. I would say that maybe it draws my attention there a little too much at times but it most certainly keeps me focused on the task at hand until I am ready to complete the job. For better or for worse it is a quite strong motivator for me.

  • maude

    February 3rd, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    It makes me smarter? I must be a genius then and not even realize it!

  • jeff

    February 3rd, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    So please guide me into turning all of the anxiety and stress that I have in my life from the negativity that I feel like it has now into the positives that are listed here.
    I am not sure that this is all just going to happen, there as to be something else underlying which is driving that kind of growth.

  • Laura

    February 4th, 2016 at 10:41 AM

    I get it that it can be used in a way as a defense against whatever we have fears of, but in the end it really isn’t protection because it usually causes you even more worry when you think about it.

  • Cassandra

    February 5th, 2016 at 2:57 AM

    I like your positive spin on some of the traits of anxiety. Being able to focus anxiety in a constructive and self-defensive way is important to managing the disorder I feel.

  • Bart

    February 6th, 2016 at 6:49 AM

    I agree with you Cassandra!

    I think that this is always one of those things that most of us look at and think that it is only going to be a hindrance, but when you can look at it from a more positive point of view you come to understand that yes it may do some bad things to you but you can also look at it in a way that can be positive for you as well.

    Great comment!

  • Wray

    February 8th, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    I have never felt any of these benefits, just the downside :(

  • Kristine Tye MFT

    February 9th, 2016 at 4:08 PM

    Carolyn, good points – it is often about finding a good balance so that we can learn from it rather than be controlled by it!

  • Kristine Tye MFT

    February 9th, 2016 at 4:09 PM

    Jeff, I am glad you’re seeking this! I hope that you are working with a good therapist who is helping you.

  • Kristine Tye MFT

    February 9th, 2016 at 4:11 PM

    Laura, I definitely agree that anxiety tends to build on itself in a negative way! I’m hoping that these new perspectives in the article will inspire us all to build on the positive things that we can control, rather than being controlled by thinking and worrying.

  • Kristine Tye MFT

    February 9th, 2016 at 4:12 PM

    Cassandra, thanks for your perspective! I am glad you’re looking for more ways to be constructive in spite of the difficult aspects of anxiety.

  • Kristine Tye MFT

    February 9th, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    Wray, thank you for your comment. Anxiety can be such a burden. I hope you are getting support with finding you own strengths against the struggles that come from anxiety.

  • David

    August 9th, 2016 at 10:50 PM

    I was just speaking about this with myv therapist the other day. What I realized was that as much my anxiety I felt prevented me from doing things I also saw that it protected me in many ways. The analytical also I could understand, I was always so worried about getting something wrong that I learned to look at a situation from multiple angles so that I would not make a mistake.

  • Anue

    June 13th, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    “When one steps away from the black and white thought process driving our pop culture obsession with categorizing every aspect of human nature, as either negative or positive, it becomes abundantly apparent that rather than more pathologizing and medicating, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on helping humans to understand the natural human condition.” ~Anue

  • Kim

    January 31st, 2021 at 5:25 PM

    I’ve had a debilitating problem with anxiety since I was a child. I know I’m not the only one, but when I experience anxiety it is always accompanied with depression and a feeling of hopelessness. I’ve been on celexa for the past 10 years and would love to get off of it and learn to deal with my anxiety without medications. This article is so very true and I got goosebumps while reading it. The only thing it doesn’t cover though is how do I get past the physical symptoms so that I can accomplish whatever my anxiety is trying to draw my attention to? The nausea, the constant negative thoughts that race through my mind? If I could get past that, then I could use my anxiety to my advantage.

  • Briana

    February 22nd, 2022 at 8:59 AM

    yes I am smart enough thanks to my anxiety disorder

  • Maia

    May 18th, 2022 at 3:46 PM

    The same tips/ideas work for pain-induced anxiety (something that often happens to chronic pain sufferers). Living with pain + anxiety every day definitely makes you focus and direct your attention (driven by necessity), be smarter about time and commitments, and overachieve — in part of out a need to self protect and hit those goals. (Personally, I worry about Not hitting them, so I overachieve and hit them Always.)
    And yes, that means we’ve also learned to direct our actions in response to our health: A quick walk or a bit of yoga or dancing or even gardening or a chore can sometimes provide that welcomes instant relief.
    Finally, thank you for the reminder to find one’s own balance. Staying positive in all things (as much as possible) is a great way to manage both pain and anxiety!

  • smirthi

    July 1st, 2022 at 3:30 AM

    Anxiety are related mainly. When you’re agitated and terrified, it’s hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Anxiety can worsen from sleep deprivation, creating a vicious cycle of both conditions. Supplements for optimal stress relief may help to encourage mental calm.

  • Anxiety Medication

    November 18th, 2022 at 6:21 AM

    The signs of an anxiety disorder include restlessness, an unwillingness to put a worry aside, and stress that is excessive compared to the severity of the incident.

  • Elijah

    December 7th, 2022 at 12:47 AM

    I have read your article regarding anxiety and found it very informative

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